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The $200 mission....
One mom. One Mission. One dinner plate at a time.

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The $200 Mission has relocated to savvysuzieblog.blogspot.com - be sure to update your subscriptions and links!


Beat the stores at their own game

When we go shopping, most of us are paying SOME attention to the cost of our grocery items. While we may not be a walking database of pricing, we certainly make conscious choices to take sale items over full price items....but is the sale price you're getting today REALLY the best price you can get?

Supermarket pricing runs in quarterly, or 12 week cycles. At the early part of the cycle, an item is going to be at its full retail price. Let's use brand-name soda as an example - full price is usually somewhere around $1.60 for a 2 Liter bottle in my area. This will generally be when the shipments first arrive, and they have some time before sell-by dates approach expiration. Unless you're in dire need of a particular item, there's no reason to jump on a purchase at this point.

Eventually items will go on sale. HOWEVER this is what is referred to as the "phantom" sale price. It's discounted, but not by much (maybe 15-30 percent). Our soda will be at about $1.45 at this point. If you're running low on something it's probably enough to get you to buy right then and there, but it's hardly the best you can do.

There is often one more price drop before you hit the golden mark - this is when you'll see the 2-fer and 3-fer sales that LOOK like fantastic deals, but this is just a marketing tool that plays on your perception of a good price. Not everybody will take the time to do the math and figure out what they're actually paying per unit. Soda at this point will hit the 4-for-$5 mark, which is about $1.25 per bottle. It's a decent deal, but we haven't hit rock bottom yet.

A side note on these 2-fer deals - unless specifically mentioned in the flyer, the store does not require you to buy the full number of items to get the sale unit price! So if you're low on Progresso soup and they're on sale at 5 for $8, grab two or three to get you through, but don't feel pressured to max out the item count just because the store says you should.

Finally, at the end of the 12 weeks - the Promised land of sales!! Items hit rock bottom price - for our soda example this would be when the 2 liter bottle goes for $0.75, 10-for-$10, or something close to that. THIS is the time to stock up and fill your pantry or freezer with these items. You end up saving over 50%, and that is WITHOUT coupons. (This is where the Couponmom system really shines)

Most sites that talk about the sales cycle recommend keeping a price book, as different items start and finish their 12 week cycle at different times. Keeping track of the rock-bottom price for the items you use regularly will help you know when to stock up and when to shop in your pantry. Keep a small notebook with
your coupons - write things in pencil as you go through the sales flyers and only change the price when you find something lower - note the date as well and soon the cycles will show themselves and you can plan your shopping lists accordingly.

Another thing to watch for is the Loss leaders - these are the items that the store will practically give away, to draw you into the store and fill your shopping cart with everything else you hadn't planned on buying. These will usually be on the front or back page of the flyer, with the other best deals for that week. Stock up with these little gems but make sure that's all you buy - don't get drawn in to buying other items at full or early sale price.

And finally, learn how to properly store what you've got. Filling your pantry and freezer with bargain finds is wonderful, until the bugs get into the flour and the meat has freezer burn and is near inedible. Over the next few weeks I'll share what I'm learning about proper food storage and ways to make sure that your stocked pantry doesn't turn into a compost pile.

Week 3 of my shopping challenge is on - the sales flyers arrive today so tomorrow afternoon I should have the next shopping excursion planned out! Is it bad that this is feeling more and more like a sporting event?

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Where's the beef?

Did you know that the butcher on site at big-name grocery stores will cut up meat for you on request? Here's a perfect example of how this can work in your favor...

If you read my blog from my first shopping trip, I got top round london broil steaks for $1.79/lb. That's a GREAT price on a decent cut of beef - but how many times can you cook london broil before you're sick of it? That line of thinking is what leads to stocking up small - two packages as I had done - instead of REALLY bringing it home.

So what do you do instead of searching the internet frantically for a new recipe or six? Press the little buzzer on the butcher's window. Because most ground beef goes for $1.99/lb on sale....but why not buy the top round for $1.79/lb and have Mr. Butcher Man turn that steak into ground beef? You're buying it cheaper AND they don't generally charge extra. So take home 6 pounds worth of steaks, and another 6 pounds of ground beef...for the cheaper price!

This can also work in your favor if you want cube steaks (for stew or kebobs) and you find a sale price on a cut of beef that is cheaper than the pre-packaged cubed meat. The butcher will probably ask you to come back for your finished product, but it's a minor inconvenience for a major savings!!

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The value of stocking up

Went to the store today - I spent all of $19! Got milk, eggs, 2 loaves of bread, a box of baking mix, some garlic salt, bananas, and 4 bottles of diet soda for the hubby and still undershot my estimated budget for this week! I love Price Rite....

I'll be off for a couple of days for the holiday weekend, but next week look for more recipes, and some info on how the supermarket sale cycles can work in our favor!

Happy shopping!

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Week 2

Week 2 of the shopping challenge is upon me. And I am definitely seeing how stocking up when prices are lowest will pay off over the course of the month. I visited Couponmom this morning with circulars and coupons in hand, only to find that this week there really wasn't much that was on deep discount that would be useful to me. Being the holiday weekend I saw much of what I expected, price cuts on hot dogs, chips, soda, condiments for BBQ's...but nothing truly spectacular as I had seen the week before.

I love that the site takes the tracking of pricing cycles out of my hands! I may be OCD but I definitely don't have time to keep track of when things are dropping in price, and when they go back up. I'll double check the site tommorrow to see if any coupons due to come out sunday will do me any good, but I can pretty much lay low on the food shopping this week and wait until those discounts get bigger. All I really need this week is perishable basics (milk, eggs, bread, and a few fruits and veggies. I'm estimating my food bill this week to be under $25...we'll see how things look after the shopping run tomorrow!

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Maybe grandma knows best after all...

This whole food budgeting process has actually permeated into other areas of our life...it's hard to put so much effort into stemming one cash-bleed, and not see other areas that need major repairs as well. It's like a bad trip to the mechanic - you bring your car in for a broken headlight and suddenly find out that you have a rotted-this and a leaking-that.

I have kept the purse strings pretty tight, but if you were to ask me exactly where all of our hard-earned dollars went each month, I'd be hard-pressed for a complete answer. I am neither a financial planner nor a certified accountant, I am a master juggler. Unfortunately, as Ringling Brothers-worthy as that monthly performance may be, it's not going to help me have a more complete picture of where our money is going and how we can do better. I know the bills do get paid each month - we still have a place to live, hot water, electricity, and working phones....but it would be nice to reach the last paycheck without having to play Peter against Paul, and with no regrets about how money was spent earlier in the month.

What I have noticed as I've researched frugal living online (mostly looking for cheap recipes), is that almost all of the websites recommend the Envelope system, or some version of it. The basic concept is probably very familiar to your elder relatives:

  • Figure out how much the monthly cost is for each of your necessary expenses (rent, utilities, food, insurance, etc.) and divide by the number of paychecks you get each month.
  • Each expense gets its own envelope, and each week you CASH your check and divvy up the money to each envelope.
  • When an expense comes up or bill comes due, you go to the corresponding envelope. If it's a fluctuating item like grocery, you can only spend what is in the envelope until the next paycheck.

My husband's grandmother swears by this system. But what to do in today's society, where we can carry plastic before we can legally drink, and marketing tells us that cash is a major inconvenience?

There are a few resources that have brought the envelope system to the digital age. For the uber-connected, I would recommend Mvelopes.com. They have combined expense management on the envelope system premise with on-line bill pay, automatic transaction retrieval (from bank and credit card info), and basic financial planning software. And the info is securely stored online, so you can access it anywhere without specially installed software. The cost is between $8 and $12 per month (depending on your service agreement) but if you're tracking spending and cash flow from several sources, it's worth the cost.

For those who prefer software without the expense of membership fees, I found MySpendingPlan.com. They also use the Envelope concept but in a self-contained budgeting tool. You will have to manually enter income and expenses, but the software will allow you to set up a virtual envelope system to manage where the money goes. It also has special tools for budget planning major one-time expenses (wedding, home remodel, vacation, etc), creating shopping lists, and lots of other extras to help organize your budget and work towards long term goals.

And finally, for those of us who just prefer the KISS principle but don't want to cash our checks each week, Excel is a tried and true tool. There are plenty of ready-made templates out there, like this template from MS Office. You can edit and customize these to suit your own budget, or use it as a guide to create your own from scratch.

Whatever system you choose, the real test is actually sticking to the limits you put on your finances. No matter how good any system is, the one thing none of them will do is prevent you from using money for things not on your budget, or overspending. But if you can commit to the budget you create, it won't be long before you can finally give Peter and Paul some much-needed rest...and maybe earn some peace of mind for yourself, too.

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Have gas, will travel?

With the holiday weekend approaching, I'm sure many of us are asking ourselves whether the trip out to the rel's for the annual BBQ is really going to be worth the ride. In my area gas is pretty cheap compared to other parts of MA, and even I saw local stations selling regular unleaded for $3.75/gallon. That's scary, and it certainly causes me to reconsider any extra trips I might take in the next couple of weeks.

Also, gas definitely is a consideration when using the multiple-store approach to food shopping that I am working with to try and cut my total budget down - it's pointless to save at the store if my car is going to consume any savings and then some.

While we can't lower gas prices by boycotting the Petrol giants on a given day (I just laugh when those chain emails show up in my inbox), we CAN look to get the most bang for our buck locally.

At Gasbuddy.com you can pull up local prices by zip code, the site will tell you the station info, price, and when it was seen. You can also post your own findings to help other commuters! AAA also tracks retail gas prices, but their info tends to be less specific. The brand of gas really makes little difference in the quality of gas you get - regulations are strict regardless of the station name, and all providers buy from the same 2 or 3 suppliers anyway.

Also, try to schedule trips to the gas pump for earlier in the week (before Wednesday), as stations most definitely raise their prices for the weekend - even more so on holiday weekends. Many stations even run additional cents-off specials on Mondays or Tuesdays, and these days every penny counts.

Finally, keep your car maintained. The government posts fuel efficiency recommendations, including some of the following tips:

- Regular oil and filter changes can improve your fuel economy by up to 10 percent, as much as $0.37 per gallon

- Keeping your tires properly inflated adds another 3 percent (0.11 per gallon). Learn how to read the recommended psi on the outside of your tire, pick up a tire gauge at the convenience store or Wal-mart for 75 cents, and know which of your local gas stations still has a free air pump. Many oil change sites will do your tires at the same time as well.

I also recommend cleaning out the inside of your car and trunk at least once every couple of months, more often if you find that the floor of your car disappears after a week or two. Not only does it make for a more pleasant ride in a clean car, but all the extra added weight from trash, books, clothes, and other junk that lands in the car or trunk can severely reduce your fuel efficiency - it also negatively affects acceleration AND braking - the more weight you're carting around, the harder your car must work to stop, and get moving again. That's not just reduced fuel efficiency, that's also increased maintenance and repair costs as parts wear out faster.

So before you plan your weekend trip, get out the garbage bags, check your oil and tires, and get whatever savings you can from the gas man!

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Chickpea Stew

This is one of my favorite recipes, it's good for nights when you don't want to do ANOTHER chicken dish or just want something with a lot of veggies for a change. I have served this alone as a main or side dish, or had it over rice to make it more filling and stretch it further. It also reheats VERY well! Plus this is a SUPER cheap recipe - just over $3 for the whole thing - so if you want to add extra of any of the ingredients it won't break the bank!

2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic (or more, if you're a garlic fan like me!)
1/2 tsp basil -or- italian seasoning mix (depending on your taste)
1 can chickpeas, drained
2 med zucchini, quartered lengthwise and then cut into bite size pieces
1 med onion, diced
1 large tomato, diced (you can also use canned stewed or diced tomato)
2-3 cups chopped fresh spinach
2-3 cups cooked rice
Parmesan cheese

1. In a large saute pan, heat oil - add garlic and herbs/seasoning, let it sizzle for just under a minute or until the garlic is slightly browned.
2. Add chickpeas and zucchini, stir to coat with oil and garlic. reduce heat slightly, cover and let cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Add onions, stir to mix, re-cover and let cook for about 3 minutes, or until the onions are translucent.
4. Add tomato, stir to mix, re-cover and let cook for about 2 minutes.
5. Add spinach, stir to mix, re-cover and let cook for about 4 minutes. Remove cover and cook an additional 4-5 minutes, or until the spinach is cooked.
6. If desired, serve over 3/4 cup of rice, add parmesan cheese to taste.

Makes 4-6 servings

Total cost:
Chickpeas - 0.59
Zucchini - appx 0.75
Tomato - appx 0.60
Onion - appx 0.20
Spinach - appx 0.80
Rice - appx 0.50

Total cost for a meal plus leftovers: $3.44!!!!!

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I saved HOW much???

Ok - this is a shining example of why the Couponmom system works so well for you to know when to stock up on items - because her system is not just about knowing when to use the coupons from the Sunday paper....it's also about knowing when a sale price is TRULY the rock-bottom best price (more about that later):

This is ACTUAL info from my sales receipt from my trip to Stop & Shop on Saturday...

*Ajax dish soap - regular $1.29 - on sale for 1.00, plus 0.20 coupon
*Hebrew Nat'l Franks - reg $4.89 - on sale for BOGO PLUS a free 12 oz Gulden's mustard, PLUS a $1.00 off coupon
*Quilted Northern TP 24 roll - reg $7.59 - on sale for 5.99
*Broccoli bunches - reg price $1.29, same as price rite
(this is where it gets REALLY GOOD)
*Appx 4lb Bone in center cut pork chops - reg $3.99/lb, on sale for $1.79/lb
*Kielbasa - reg $3.99 - on sale BOGO
*Appx 3lb Top round london broil (2 REALLY big steaks per pkg) - reg $4.99/lb - on sale for 1.79/lb

Total before savings: $74.63
Total savings: $40.91 (no joke...that's a 55% savings)
Total paid: 33.72

Rock on!!!

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The scissors were flying...

Today was the big test....shopping day. Fortunately or unfortunately, our pantry had run quite bare so we basically needed EVERYTHING. That's what happens when you go 2 weeks where my part-time paycheck is the primary income.

Anyway, this was the first attempt at utilizing the Couponmom system. It took me a while last night to go through the best deals lists for my stores, match the coupons, and then plan out exactly where I had to go...but I imagine that as with anything, the more I do it the less time it will take me. By the time I went to bed last night I was Little Miss organization though, with my list (by store I would be shopping at), coupons, and a bit of nervous excitement as to how things would look by the end of the day.

Now, I should mention here that I actually visited 6 different stores today. Yes, I know...first reaction is that any money I might have saved on grocery was wasted on gas! But I am in a very fortunate position on that matter - all 6 stores are within 10 miles of my house, on the SAME stretch of road. The Wal-Mart is the furthest away and I had to go there anyway, so we literally just rock-hopped our way up there. And I learned a few things that will save me some time later on...

My first stop was the Price-Rite, for two reasons. One, historically they have the LOWEST prices on basic grocery items. But two, I wanted to get some hard info on their prices for comparison. This is where my OCD side kicked in...I shopped with my grocery list in one hand, and a notepad and pen in the other. I now have a spreadsheet of pricing on everything I normally get at Price Rite, so that I know for certain if a deal that SEEMS good is really the ABSOLUTE best. The Couponmom site shows you the percent saved for each Best Deals item, but that is the percent based on THAT store's regular price. So what is 50% off at Shaw's might actually be higher that my regular Price Rite price. Now I have a base reference guide to double check and make sure extra trips are worth my while.

I then hit Stop & Shop and Shaws for just a couple of items at each store. The meat sales were good so I was able to stock up, and a few produce items were below the Price Rite price so I went for it. I hit Walgreens for a battery sale but passed on a purchase because the Wal-Mart has better prices. CVS for laundry soap (100 loads for $4) and then on to Wally World for the last few bits and the things I know I can get cheaper there.

I did find that for household items (cleaning supplies, paper goods, etc) I should probably hit Wal-Mart first and check to see if their price is lower than the grocery store price before the coupon. A couple of things were slightly cheaper so my coupons would have saved me even more, but this was a learning experience so I didn't sweat it too much.

I also learned that when I am talking about a goal of $200 per month, I'm probably talking about 2 big shopping trips (stock up on meat, non-perishables, household supplies) and 2 small ones (milk, produce, eggs). I was beating myself up about what I actually spent today until I realized that I have enough meat for almost 3 weeks of dinners, the canned and dry goods will last a couple of weeks, and the paper goods will go 6 weeks or further.

So what was the final bill? I spent $75 at the Price Rite, and then about $65 at the other stores collectively. BUT....between hitting the sale items and combining with coupons according to the Couponmom system, I saved $55. For me that's a MAJOR feat...and I feel like my goal is more of a possibility!!!

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Little victories!

I didn't expect to see payoff so early in the process! We had some trouble figuring out what to do for dinner tonight, so I did a quick search on Cheap dinners and found this recipe for Grandma's Chicken Stew at iVillage...(recipe printed below with my personal adjustments noted)

Well....what I quickly realized was that my roasted chicken adventure the other night set me up perfectly for this recipe! I had homemade chicken broth, and plenty of leftover chicken bits so that I didn't need to use a canned version. I substituted the grated carrots with some frozen mixed veggies that I had, and I seasoned the broth with Mrs. Dash before adding the noodles and such. Hubby and baby both went to bed with full bellies, so I can mark this recipe as a hit!

But wait....here's the BEST part. Grand total cost for this meal, which BTW left me with about 2 servings of leftovers:

Chicken broth - 0.00 (leftovers)
Veggie broth - 1.00
Frozen veggies - 0.25 (1/4 of a 0.99 bag)
Chicken bits - 0.00 (leftovers)
Egg noodles - 0.50 (1/2 of a 0.99 bag)

Grand total: $1.75!!!!!! Hooray!

Here's the recipe with my notes...enjoy!

Grandma's Chicken Stew

2 cans (14 ½ ounces each) fat-free chicken broth *29 oz homemade broth
1 can (14 ½ ounces) vegetable broth
¾ cup already-shredded carrots *1/4 bag frozen mixed veggies
8 ounces (about 4 cups) wide egg noodles
1 large can (10 ounces) white-meat chicken *leftover roasted chicken bits
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cold water
Black pepper to taste *Mrs Dash to taste

1. Bring the chicken broth and vegetable broth (and Mrs Dash seasoning) to a boil in a covered 4 ½-quart Dutch oven or soup pot over high heat. This should take 8 to 10 minutes. When the broth boils, add the carrots (frozen veggies), noodles, and the chicken and its juices. Cover the pot and bring the broth back to a rolling boil.

2. Uncover the pot and stir, breaking up any chicken chunks slightly. Continue to boil, uncovered, over high heat until the noodles are tender, about 6 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, combine the flour and water in a small container that has a lid. Shake well until the lumps disappear.

4. When the noodles are just tender, add the flour mixture and stir constantly until the stew is slightly thick, about 2 minutes. Season with pepper and remove from the heat. Serve in large soup plates or bowls.

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The glory of Food Co-ops

If you read my first few posts, I talked about some of the basic ideas I'll be incorporating as I try to reach this goal. One that may be unfamiliar to most is a food co-op organization called Serve New England.

This is how they describe what they offer:
"Serve New England is a program designed to promote volunteer service by offering deep discounts on the highest quality grocery, meat, and vegetable items to community-minded individuals willing to volunteer 2 hours of their time each month to a worthy cause. "

Essentially, they work with local food distributors to get big discounts on grocery items, and put together a basic package (it usually includes about 4 different meat items, a starch, and a bunch of fruits and veggies) that will be sold for $22. It's usually at or more than 50% off what you'd pay for the same package at the grocery store. They have specialty add-on packages too, usually seasonal meats (for example, this month one of the add-ons was chicken kebabs, another was breaded shrimp) or holiday dinner baskets around Christmas and Thanksgiving.

This is NOT a food pantry, or a program with income guidelines - anyone can participate, all they ask is that you do 2 hours of volunteer work in your community in the month you buy a Serve package. You pay for the package(s) you want during the first week of the month, and pick everything up about 2 weeks later on a Saturday morning. The Serve chapter I go to will actually let you help pack boxes early on the Saturday of distribution as your volunteer hours, so I'm sure other chapters do the same. But if you have other places you can or do volunteer (schools, soup kitchens, thrift stores, church organizations, etc) they just have a voucher for your chosen organization to sign off that you did the 2 hours.

I have found the food quality to be pretty good, and I have gotten 6-7 meals out of the package depending on what's included that month. Find a local chapter here!

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First pass

Since I haven't done a shopping trip yet this week, I figured I'd start last night by taking a hard look at what was already in my freezer and pantry and trying to maximize what I have at hand. I also wanted to see what exactly I was spending per meal to get a better idea of where I needed to make the most changes.

So I dove deep into the basement freezer and I found the jackpot....a Perdue oven roaster chicken! I am ashamed to admit that in 13-odd years of living on my own, I have never roasted a whole chicken without help. Fortunately, Jim Perdue understands my plight and printed fairly easy roasting directions on the back of the package. I grabbed the roasting set we got for a wedding present, blew off the dust, and did up the chicken, Perdue style.

My next stop was the pantry...had to find a veggie and a decent starch. The veggie was easy - there was a can of sliced carrots right at the front of the pack...the starch was a bigger challenge. Pasta and rice had been kinda overdone this past week, and part of the point of this challenge is to find other ways to fill the dinner plate so we're not eating the same 3 meals every day. My eyes fell on a box of Price-rite brand pancake mix. I vaguely remembered making biscuits out of Bisquick once, so I figured the ingredients wouldn't be that different with the PR brand. I peeked into one of my cookbooks, and one had a very easy recipe for cheese biscuits - perfect!

I'm happy to report the meal came together quite nicely, the chicken cooked nice and tender (kudos, Mr. Perdue!) and the biscuits and carrots were just right. At the end of the meal, our three bellies were full, AND we had a plate of leftover chicken and a carcass left in the roaster. Being new to this "minimum waste" philosophy, I thought for a few as to what I could do with the leftovers...at some point a dusty light bulb fired up in my head and I recalled my mom making chicken stock from misc. parts on special occasions. Google served me well and I found a very easy chicken stock recipe. So now I have stock I can freeze, and the goods for a tasty chicken salad sandwich for lunch tomorrow! Hooray!

Oh and the grand total for dinner, with all the extras:
Roaster chicken, 4 lb - $3.89
Can sliced carrots - $0.75
1/3 box of baking mix - appx $0.60
1/4 cup cheddar cheese - appx $0.80
Grand total - $6.04

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Testing the waters

Before I decided to go ahead and set a budget goal, I did a little homework, both online and in my own spending habits. I have never really had the patience to be a coupon clipper, mostly because no matter how many little coupon organizers, card files, or envelopes I bought, I always manage to forget about the coupons until long after they have expired. Somewhere out there is a pile of long-forgotten scraps offering $1.00 off this and 2-for-1 on that, left over from many of my attempts to clean out my purse.

A while back, I started doing a good chunk of my food shopping at Price Rite. For those who are lucky enough to have a Price Rite or Shop Rite in your neighborhood, it should be the first stop in your grocery excursions. Outside the Northeast I am sure there are similar bargain grocery stores. These stores get a bad rap - I've mentioned where I shop and gotten questions like "isn't everything expired?" and "they're pretty low quality, aren't they?". Rest your head, I am not poisoning my family with expired food or stuffing them full of cheap fillers. For one, the Price Rite brand stuff is as good, and often EXACTLY the same as the big supermarket store brands. And while some of the stuff they get may be close to the sell-by date, I have seen the same thing at the big name stores as well, though for some reason if the label says "Green Giant" or "Kellog" that makes it OK. (???)

A co-worker also operates a farm and he actually RECOMMENDED the Price Rite produce. They get fresher and riper produce because they know it will move fast. I find that the meat section is pretty limited, but I can get 5 pounds of boneless chicken breast for $1.99/lb every day so that works for me. I would not necessarily buy paper goods there, that's probably the only place where quality does suffer, but the frozen foods are all quite good and I can always find the things I use regularly.

But while that has helped my food bill significantly, I had a feeling I could do better. I did some poking around online and got hooked on Couponmom.com. The site logs and sorts two things: the coupons in the sunday circulars, and the supermarket sales. They tell you to save the WHOLE circular and file by date. Each week you can hop on and pull up info on the best deals for your local grocery store, and it not only tells you what the percent savings is for sale items (so you know if it's REALLY a good sale) but it will also cross-reference with the coupons from the circulars so you know if a coupon will really boost your savings. When I first browsed the site I noticed that the list I pulled up for the Shaw's listed coupons from 4 weeks ago - so if I had been saving those coupons, I'd have just needed to wait till the site said it was time to pounce for the best possible price! I LOVE it!

You do have to get past a bunch of ad pages, but it is definitely worth it once you're signed up. On a side note, they link to a bunch of other coupon sites...the only one I found worthwhile was Coolsavings.com. All of the sites linked pretty much have the same coupons to print, but that site had the least number of ads to pass through before you could print coupons.

So here's my basic strategy:
- make a list of the items I buy very regularly at Price Rite with cost and unit size, for comparison
- Follow the Couponmom system, saving circulars and checking the site weekly for sales at Shaw's and Stop & Shop that will maximize my savings - never buying unless it's at LEAST 40% savings but shooting for the 55% and above items
- Continue to participate in the Serve New England co-op program (more on that later)
- replace convenience foods with homemade versions
- find ways to use all of the leftover bits from meals and minimize waste, so food goes further

Seems like a lot of work, but if I can reduce my food bill by half it's worth it!!

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Baby steps....

I think it was a combination of having to squeak through financially when the hubby was between jobs, and the news report about unleaded gas at $4.29 per gallon. WHAT??? My purse strings have always been pretty tight (case in point, I haven't bought new clothes in 6 years) but we are definitely going to be pushed to our limits as things get worse.

So I have put myself on a mission:

Reduce my monthly food bill to $200, or as close to it as I can get.

Now, I live in Massachusetts - not exactly the easiest place to reduce spending in general...there's some weird high price vortex that takes effect mid-New Jersey and doesn't let up until halfway through New Hampshire. The part of MA that I live in isn't quite as bad as the immediate Boston area, but it's still been tough to keep the food budget at $100 per week.

My happy band of misfits currently consists of myself, my husband (who is a type 1 diabetic with a voracious appetite), and my 1 year old son who has apparently inherited his father's stomach. So I have the added challenge of providing meals that are relatively low carb for DH, and healthy with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies for the li'l sprout. Can't fall back on Ramen, prepackaged convenience food, or too much pasta. We are also planning to start trying for another baby in the fall, so I would like to make sure that the extra diapers next year don't end up breaking the budget.

I don't expect to hit the magic number right off the bat, I know this will take a lot of practice, planning, and creative cooking...It's a huge challenge to rethink the way I spend money on grocery trips, and an equally daunting challenge to retrain myself in the kitchen and get away from the easy (tr: more expensive) shortcuts at mealtime. Just have to take baby steps!

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